Lots of competition, few jobs in Phillies’ bullpen

Lots of competition, few jobs in Phillies’ bullpen
February 3, 2013, 9:15 am
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It’s Super Bowl Sunday and you know what that means. It won’t be long before the mitts start popping in spring training camps in Florida and Arizona.

The Phillies will hold their first workout Feb. 13 and one of the biggest storylines in camp – the makeup of the bullpen – will immediately come into focus.

On paper, the Phils’ bullpen appears to be much improved thanks to the addition of Mike Adams. The Phils blew 13 eighth-inning leads in 2012 and Adams, one of the best setup men in the game, should plug that leak.

The recent signing of Chad Durbin gives the Phils a level-headed veteran who can fill a number of roles and pass along some wisdom to the passel of young relievers that the club has stockpiled. Durbin’s arrival means four bullpen jobs, barring injury, are essentially claimed: Closer Jonathan Papelbon, Adams, lefty Antonio Bastardo and Durbin. Charlie Manuel typically goes with a seven-man bullpen. That could lead to some spirited spring competition as a host of relievers compete for just three open jobs.

Performance will ultimately decide how this thing shakes out. In the meantime, on this final day of the football season, let’s try to crystal-ball things a little.

Candidates for open bullpen jobs include Mike Stutes, Phillippe Aumont, Jeremy Horst, Jake Diekman, Justin De Fratus, B.J. Rosenberg, Michael Schwimer, Joe Savery, Raul Valdes and Mauricio Robles. All are on the 40-man roster. Some interesting non-roster candidates include Juan Cruz, Justin Friend and Zach Miner. Obviously most of these pitchers will open the season in the minors, but that doesn’t mean they won’t eventually figure into the picture in Philadelphia. Last year, nine of the 17 relievers used by the Phillies began the season in the minors.

One of those pitchers was Horst, a lefty acquired from Cincinnati for utility man Wilson Valdez in January 2012. The trade was initially unpopular in some quarters because Valdez was a fan favorite who’d do anything the team asked, including pitch. Who could forget his endearing, extra-innings, relief win in May 2011? Horst came to the Phillies as a bit on an unknown, but opened eyes with his work at Triple A and in the majors. He came up in late June and recorded a 1.15 ERA in 32 games. In 31 1/3 innings, he allowed just 21 hits (one homer) while striking out 40 and walking 14. He held lefthanded hitters to a .170 batting average (8-for-47).

Ideally, the Phillies would have a second lefty in addition to Bastardo. Based on last year’s showing, Horst might have the inside track on a job. Diekman, a side-armer with power stuff, might have a higher upside than Horst, but he could be a candidate for more experience in Triple A as he works on throwing more strikes.

The final two jobs in the bullpen could end up going to righthanders. The veteran Cruz could be someone to watch if he can conquer his control issues. Stutes, recovered from shoulder surgery that cost him much of the 2012 season, will merit serious consideration. He had a nice rookie showing in 2011, recording a 3.63 ERA in 57 games. De Fratus and Rosenberg, both power arms, are interesting candidates and so is Schwimer, who appeared in 35 games last season.

It’s possible that Cruz, Stutes, De Fratus, Rosenberg, Schwimer and others could be competing for one spot in the bullpen. That’s because one of the final two bullpen jobs may be earmarked for Aumont. The hard-throwing, 6-foot-7 righthander is not guaranteed a job, but there does seem to be a feeling around the Phillies organization that it’s time to give him a serious shot in the majors. The presence of Durbin, Bastardo and Adams would allow Aumont to pitch in low-pressure roles as he works his way to the late innings. Short of that, Aumont, who recently turned 24, could go back to Triple A and be a closer. That assignment could provide valuable experience, but the organizational preference seems to be having Aumont come into camp and win a big-league job.

Lots of arms; few jobs. The answer to the Phillies’ bullpen riddle will shake out in spring training and beyond.

Super Bowl Sunday is here and baseball is just around the bend.

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